After this morning's demoralizing news that Asamoah Gyan had signed for Al Ain on a one year loan deal (read about it here (Link) it was easy to forget that there was also a game to be played. It certainly seemed that way from the ruck of empty seats around the Stadium Of Light.
The game itself however was fairly uninspiring. Chelsea did their Chelsea thing and got the result needed whilst we continued to look relatively lackluster.
Still we managed a goal, which is nothing to be sniffed at, and ends that mini drought. "Who needs Asamoah Gyan when we've got Ji Dong-Won"... nah, doesn't quite have a ring to it...
Anyway, on with the match report...A half-empty and indeed subdued Stadium Of Light were treated to the debut of Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner, as Steve Bruce made only the enforced changes. Across the back line Titus Bramble came in for the departed Anton Ferdinand, whilst Kieran Richardson came in for John O'Shea and as said, Bendtner replaced Asamoah Gyan.
The game started with chances for Sunderland. Craig Gardner managed to break forward on the type of run we'd like to see much more often, before debut boy Bendtner wasted the most clear cut chance. Sebastian Larsson whipped in a delicious freekick from out wide and whilst Chelsea failed with their offside trap, the Dane nodded his free header wide. It should have been 1-0 to us at the at point.
After 17 minutes, there was the inevitable. Chelsea made the breakthrough via the boot of John Terry. I wish he'd stop playing against us. The move started however with Nicolas Anelka tripping over thin air under pressure from Lee Cattermole. Juan Mata's resulting freekick struck the woodwork and in the melee to clear, Sturridge found a lurking John Terry at the back post who finished from an acute angle at the second attempt.
From that moment on, Chelsea were in cruise control for the remainder of the half. We didn't look equipped to come back from a goal down, and Bendtner cut a lonesome figure up front. Eventually he was joined by Stephane Sessegnon, but even that couldn't penetrate Ivanovic or Terry in the first half.
Ramires showed Bramble a fresh set of heels as he fired over from 18 yards, before Anelka one on one with Simon Mignolet couldn't beat the Belgian, as he made himself big to keep the ball out and keep us in the game.
Jose Bosingwa was next to test Mignolet and the rest of our defence as he teased in a fantastic ball which nobody got on the end of. Jack Colback thought about it, but thankfully he didn't as any touch at all was sending it in.
As we neared half time however, things seemed to kick back into life. Literally, as Phil Bardsley quite clearly stamped on Juan Mata, and should have saw red. Luckily Lee Probert didn't see it, and we went on our way.
After 44 minutes, Petr Cech was finally called into life, as he stood firm to block a rasping half volley from Stephane Sessegnon, whilst moments later Kieran Richardson swung in a great ball nodded wide by Sebastian Larsson who had crept in ahead of Bendtner. Similar to Bendtner's earlier chance actually, and a similarly poor outcome.
It was going to be a massive ask to get back into the game, and we didn't seem to start the second half with the tempo at which we finished. Lee Cattermole nearly sent a spectacular volley into his own net as Chelsea went on the hunt for a second goal, however minutes later Daniel Sturridge did manage to double the lead for the visitors.
Raul Meireles with the long ball over the top, latched on to by Sturridge who outpaced Brown. Going across goal, his dinky back heel got past Mignolet, and rolled agonizingly into the net beyond Brown who chased it all the way. 2-0 to the visitors who were now in complete control as opposed to being just 99% as they were earlier.
In a rare corner for us, Cech came for the ball and flapped leaving Lee Cattermole to fire into a cluster of bodies from the edge of the area. The crowd sprung to life as the game was actually played by us! In their half!... the comeback was maybe on, as indeed was Ahmed Elmohamady for Phil Bardsley. A midweek knock made worse and our injury problems continue.
We did manage to get more into the game more often from the hour onwards. Florent Malouda stung the palms of Mignolet before Jack Colbacks low cross was seized upon by Bendtner who couldn't get the ball out his feet to get anything on target.
Bruce looked forlorn on the sidelines, as he well should he's got a lot on his plate (not for the first time etc etc), and as the gaffer continued to gamble, he threw on Connor Wickham for Lee Cattermole. Perhaps not that interesting to read about a substitution, but the reaction was quite startling. I didn't think Cattermole was playing particularly bad, but when his name was read out on the Tannoy, the move was greeted with rapturous applause. The fans in fantastic voice from that moment on, and a lift we perhaps all needed.
Wickham nearly scored with virtually his first touch, as he nodded over from Larsson's dinked cross. He was also offside, but at least it showed some impetus from our lot to create a chance, and the type of play Wickham can offer. The lad certainly needs a run in the side.
From then on however it was back to a familiar pattern of Chelsea very much in control, and time running out with our frustrations in front of goal continuing. Ji Dong-Won was brought on for the ineffectual Stephane Sessegnon, and managed what the Benin international didn't - A goal.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, a goal happened for us. It was in the 91st minute of 93, but never the less it's a positive. Seb Larsson's ball in miscued by Bendtner, and falling into the path of the Korean who finished nearly from 10 yards.
Despite the roar of the crowd, and the 2 minutes left, Chelsea saw out time, and our late flurry was all in vain.
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (7), Bardsley (5), Bramble (6), Brown (8), Richardson (6), Larsson (6), Cattermole (6), Gardner (7), Colback (6), Sessegnon (6), Bendtner (7)
Subs Used: Elmohamady (6), Wickham (7), Dong-Won (8)
Man of the Match: Wes Brown - Mainly for his first half performance. He was absolutely everywhere and managed to stop it being a cricket score. Plenty of blocks tackles and headers when nobody else seemed to step up to the plate. More subdued in the second half, but Chelsea barely got out of first gear. Nicklas Bendtner also had a half decent debut given the circumstances.
And so a dark day for SAFC comes to a close. Given our woes in front of goal, the timing of the Asamoah Gyan departure (which you can read about here) not only overshadowed the whole event but further highlighted our striking situation. Everyone was shown to be what they are.
Sessegnon didn't manage to get it going up front, and whilst he is an immensely talented player, can't be relied on for goals. Nicklas Bendtner had chances, and looked impressive, but looked like he had barely met his teammates (which is of course true). Connor Wickham looked every inch an exciting youngster still finding his feet, as did Ji Dong-Won (goal apart).
All in all though, today was a game we never expected to win, and with this morning's deflating news even more so. Still, we managed a goal, so that's a positive. Stoke City next week, hopefully then we start to turn things around properly.
Keep The Faith (in whomever you decide)